Hereditary Review

Horror Homeroom posted my review of Hereditary. I have a feeling that this is a film we’ll be talking about for a long time, beyond the horror genre. If you’ve seen the film, what are your thoughts?

 

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Some Thoughts on The Halloween Trailer

For horror fans, today’s the day. The new Halloween trailer has dropped.

There is quite a bit to digest in this nearly three minute trailer, but here are some of my general thoughts.

  • Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a badass. Much of the trailer shows Laurie Strode ready and eager to confront Michael Myers after her first encounter with him 40 years ago. She fires shotguns. She secures the house. She says, “I’ve been waiting for him.”‘
  • The film ignores all of the other Halloween movies, other than the original. This film is sort of a soft reboot, and it’s already been reported that it will be a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 film. At one point, a friend of Laurie’s granddaughter asks, “Wasn’t it her brother who murdered all of those babysitters?” The granddaughter counters, “No, that was something people made up.” So, there you have it. This film ignores the story-lines from all of the sequels, even the brother/sister story first introduced in Halloween II.
  • John Carpenter’s name is very present in the marketing. Early in the trailer, it is noted that the film was produced by John Carpenter. He also handled the score. It is likely they will continue to push and market his return to the franchise.
  • Several nods to the original. From the mental asylum story-line, to the scar on Laurie’s arm, to the closet scene at the end of the trailer, it is clear that this film will have  several nods to the original film.
  • Michael looks aged… but menacing. Just look at that mask! It is worn and tells its own story. Michael, meanwhile, looks hulking and menacing in every scene. It should be noted that Nick Castle, who played the original shape, has returned for this film.
  • Women, Laurie will face off with Michael again, but it’s clear her legacy/the plot of the first film will have a major impact on her daughter and granddaughter. At one point, her granddaughter says, “Everyone in my family turns into a nutcase during this time of year.” I hope this idea is explored, and I hope the other Strode women go toe to toe with the boogeyman.

So, there you have it. Our first glimpse at the new Halloween film is here. I am curious to what others think and what observations they may have. What are you expecting and hoping for with this film?

The Poetry of Oz’ Perkins’ Horror Films

After learning that Oz Perkins, son of Anthony Perkins, aka Norma Bates, was tapped to direct an adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, one of my favorite contemporary horror novels, I knew that I had to finally view his two previous films, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. There are aspects of both films that frustrate me, especially the pacing of the later, but both films stayed with me days after their viewings. Both are slow-burns that feel like nightmares, heavy on atmosphere, mood, and tone. Both play out as visual poetry.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter primarily centers around two teens, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), left behind at an all-girls boarding school during a break.  As the film progresses, Kat becomes stranger and stranger. First, she thinks that her parents are dead, though she has no evidence to support the claim. Then, she acts out towards the nuns and staff members, and she becomes obsessed with Rose. The film also follows the story of Joan (Emma Roberts), an escaped mental patient. At first, it doesn’t seem like the stories of Joan, Katm and Rose are linked, but the narrative clarifies itself in the last 20 minutes or so, and the payoff is worth it.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter has few, if any, jump scares. In fact, it has one of the most low-key, understated exorcism scenes I’ve seen in any horror film. Instead, it relies on tone and mood, a bleak Canadian winter and a mostly gray and white color palate from scene to scene. As I said earlier, visually, the film feels like a long, slow nightmare.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a film that draws much more from the Gothic tropes of literature, specifically the exploration of how the dead are  not really dead and the past is not really the past. The film has very few characters and focuses on Lily (Ruth Wilson), a hospice nurse charged with tending to Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a horror writer. Eventually, Lily starts reading Iris’ most acclaimed novel, The Lady in the Walls, about the ghost Polly (Lucy Boynton), who also haunts Iris’ house.

The film weaves poetry into the film through monologues and some of the visuals. Just check out the opening monologue by Lily:

I have heard myself say

that a house with a death in it

can never again be bought

or sold by the living.

It can only be borrowed from the ghosts

that have stayed behind

to go back and forth,

letting out and going back in again,

worrying over the floors

in confused circles,

tending to their deaths

like patchy, withered gardens.

They have stayed

to look back for a glimpse

of the very last moments of their lives.

But the memories of their own deaths

are faces on the wrong side

of wet windows,

smeared by rain,

impossible to properly see.

 

From there, the rest of the film serves as a meditation on death and the way that the past influences the present. As the film progresses, at a very slow pace, I might add, Lily becomes obsessed with the story of Polly and her influence on Iris’ novel. Polly is often shown visually in the present as a face seen through the wrong side of a wet window, something blurred, but still present, looming in the house, which in itself is quite a character in the film, a living, breathing thing with groaning floorboards and wide, darkened rooms.

Lily, meanwhile, is obsessed with the color white and often wears white through the duration of the film. Early on, she says, “I’m very seldom required to wear white by my employers. But, anyway, I always do. It;s always been that wearing white reassures the sick that I can never be touched even as darkness folds in on them from every side closing, like a claw.”

That white, however, is soiled as the film moves along, especially when Lily discovers a black, moldy substance growing on the wall where Polly was killed and buried by her husband years  earlier. Like The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is intentional in its color palate and visuals.  The growing darkness represents death, decay, and rot. At one point, Iris, who has dementia and constantly mistakes Lily for Polly says, “Even the prettiest things rot.”

The ending, like The Blackcoat’s Daughter, is a surprise and both Iris and Lily ultimately succumb to the rot that is Polly haunting the house. My main gripe with the film is the pacing. There are only so many scenes we can take of Lily or Polly walking across creaky floors  before it grows a bit tedious. This should have been a short film as opposed to a full-length.

A Head Full of Ghosts is a book that plays with traditional narrative structure and challenges it. The novel also takes the typical story of exorcism and turns it on its head. Perkins’ first two films challenge narrative expectations and conventions of the genre, so I’m excited to see what he does with the adaptation of Tremblay’s novel.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is streaming on Amazon Prime, and I Am the Prettiest Thing That Lives in the House is streaming on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge and the Power of the Gaze

I wrote an article on the French film Revenge and the gaze. It was posted over at Horror Homeroom. You can check it out here.

While difficult to watch, Revenge is one of my favorite horror films of the year thus far, especially for what it does with narrative and the gaze. If you do check out the film, prepare yourself mentally. It’s not an easy film to watch. I also encourage you to follow Horror Homeroom. They do a great job covering the horror genre with a critical eye.

 

 

Pyewacket and the Horror of Our Parents’ Imperfections

2018, like 2017, is shaping up to be a strong year for the horror film, especially with the upcoming release of A24 Studio’s Hereditary and the reboot of Halloween. Horror is poised to do well at the box office again this year, but some attention should be given to the independent films that have already been released this year, including Pyewacket, written and directed by Adam MacDonald and released by IFC Midnight.

 

 

 

The film stars Nicole Munoz as Leah, a rebellious teenager who listens to heavy metal and has a fascination with the occult. Leah may sound like a one-dimensional, cliche character, but she is not, mainly because of the story given to her. The central conflict revolves around Leah’s fragile relationship with her erratic mother, Mrs. Reyes, played by Laurie Holden (“The Walking Dead,” “The X-Files”). Holden’s performance is stellar. Her moods change from scene to scene and showcase Holden’s range as an actress. One minute, she is curled up on the bed, crying, and by the next scene, she is cooking pancakes for her daughter, trying to ease the tension with a smile. Mrs. Reyes is grief-stricken after losing her husband, and she wants to move away in order to move on, which puts her at odds with her daughter, who has found her place among fellow Goths at school.

Eventually, Leah dabbles with rituals and tries to summon a demon to punish her mother. In the hands of a less skilled director, this familiar plot line of a teenager in conflict with her mother would be yawnsome, but MacDonald makes it work. This is not a fast-paced film heavy on jump scares. Instead, it builds slowly and the viewer spends a lot of time getting to know Mrs. Reyes, Leah, and her friends, which makes the audience generally concerned for their well-being. The scares build slowly, from creaks in the house, to unnerving footsteps on the roof, to a rather memorable and startling conclusion.

More so, Pyewacket falls in line with recent horror movies that interrogate the imperfections of parents and also the lofty expectations placed on parents, especially mothers, to fulfill their role. The Babadook comes to mind. Mrs. Reyes, like the frazzled mother in The Babadook, Amelia (Essie Davis), tries to do her best but can only take on so much. The children in both films don’t make it easy on their mothers, either. Leah immediately protests the decision to move, discounting her mother’s grief.  However, Pyewacket is a little more direct in questioning the ways that we idolize parents, especially mothers, and whether or not that’s healthy.  In one of the early scenes, Leah’s friend Janice (Chloe Rose), asks, “Do you think our parents will always be our parents? We’re supposed to look up to them, but they’re just people. They fuck up. They make mistakes. Really, they’re just people.”

Mrs. Reyes is never depicted as the perfect mother. In fact, in one scene, she says to Leah, “Your friends are losers  just like you’re becoming,” before adding that it’s impossible for her to move on when she sees her husband every day in her daughter’s face. Her mood swings display the effects of her grief and her newfound role as a widowed and single mother.  It takes much longer in The Babadook for Amelia’s tension with her son to come to a head, though both mothers try to maintain their sanity, despite the demands of their children.

The fraught relationship between Leah and Mrs. Reyes and the strong performances by Holden and Munoz make Pyewacket one of this year’s most compelling horror films so far. The scares that ramp up by the film’s second half are an added bonus.

Pyewacket is currently available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, and other streaming services.

 

Halloween 2018 (What We Know So Far)

Without a doubt, one of the most anticipated horror films of 2018 is Halloween. Instead of another unnecessary sequel, Halloween 2018 is going to follow only John Carpenter’s original film, thus wiping the universe clean and placing us back to the beginning. With John Carpenter returning as executive producer and with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to play Laurie Strode 40 years after the original, there is reason to be excited. So far, some minor details about the film have leaked, after  Jamie Lee Curtis introduced the first trailer at CinemaCon in Las Vegas a few days ago. Based on reporting, the trailer begins with a true crime documentary team investigating Michael Myers’ murders from the first film. The investigators visit Myers, who’s been held in a facility for years; obviously, something goes wrong and Myers returns to Haddonfield. Curtis has said  that this time, Laurie Strode is ready for Michael, meaning she has stockpiled guns for the day he returns. This is quite a contrast to the 1978 Laurie Strode, who was a quiet, bookish teenager who outlived her friends by following the typical tropes of final girls in slasher films (innocence, being a virgin, etc). Seeing a more confident version of the character has peeked my interest as much as the description of the trailer.

It has also been reported that Carpenter will score the film, and Laurie’s daughter will be played by Judy Greer. Her granddaughter will be played by Andi Maticha. So far it is unclear what role they will play in the film, but let’s hope that the plot centers around the Strode family, specifically each generation of women, facing off against the Boogeyman.

myers mask.jpg

There is much to be said about the first poster of the film, too. It clearly shows a mask that is aged, perhaps one that Michael has worn while rotting away in a facility years after the first film. The mask is dominant on the poster, which may indicate that the film intends to make Michael the ever-present force that he was in Carpenter’s original story, a type of evil that can be present anywhere at anytime, behind a bush, in a yard, in a house. That is what truly made him the Boogeyman in the first place. Lastly, the text at the bottom of the poster somewhat reassembles the text from the first film, which is another indication that this film intends to have more in common with the original than the many sequels.

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Halloween is slated to be released on Oct. 19. It will be directed by David Gordon Green.

 

Is “The Walking Dead” Getting a Soft Reboot?”

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After “Fear the Walking Dead” cleaned house and essentially changed its writing staff for season 4, there has been speculation about the fate of “The Walking Dead.” While the show still occupies the public imagination, it has faced a ratings decline over the last two seasons, as the All Out War arc has gone on too long. Season 8’s finale, “Wrath,” marked the conclusion of that arc. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors were at long last defeated by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and company. Based on some of the dialogue from the season finale, it is possible that the show may see a soft reboot in season 9, and hopefully one that focuses less on a villain like Negan and more on the characters trying to rebuild civilization and retain their humanity, while fending off zombies. Zombies! Remember those?

As far as season finales go, “Wrath” was not that bad. It had far less action sequences and gunfire fights than the first half of season 8. None of the violence was gratuitous, unlike the season 7 premiere when Negan had his full introduction by using his beloved barbed wire baseball bat Lucille to bludgeon the heads of fan favorites Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). Additionally, the finale successfully concluded a tiresome arc, while opening up some intriguing possibilities for the show moving forward. At the center of “Wrath” was the idea that Rick and his crew are moving on from the past. After slicing Negan’s throat and nearly killing him, he talks to his people and the Saviors about how it’s time to rebuild civilization, that the days of one group opposed to another group are over. In one of the last scenes, Rick and Michonne (Dania Gurira) tell Negan that they let him live so he can “rot” in a jail cell and serve as an example of a rebuilt civilization where peace and justice rule. This follows his comic fate post-All Out War.

Maggie (Lauren Cohan), meanwhile, asserts herself in another scene by telling Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Jesus (Tom Payne) that Rick and Michonne need to pay for allowing Negan to live. This dynamic should return the show to character arcs and development. It opens up the potential for a good story-line heading into season 9. There is also the unknown story-line of Negan and what purpose he will serve moving forward. In the comic, post-All Out War, he has an important story-line that deals with Carl, but since Carl (Chandler Riggs) has been killed off on the show,, that will allow the TV writers to take a different path with Negan, which again opens new possibilities.

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Recently, former show-runner Scott Gimple has said that the season 8 finale serves a conclusion to the first eight season and the writers plan to do something different moving forward. That idea was at the center of “Wrath.” Rick’s speech can be seen as a metaphor for the show up until this point and the need to move on from what was. Additionally, the show opened and concluded with an image/flashback of Rick and a young Carl walking on a quiet countryside road, so maybe Carl’s vision for a peaceful future will start to come to fruition and the surviving groups can focus on rebuilding. Perhaps the main conflict will be the inner workings of this new world, including Maggie versus Rick’s dueling visions. That would move the show away from the stale formula of a bad guy v. Rick and company.

Based on this week’s “Fear the Walking Dead” season 4 premiere, it is evident that you can give a show a soft reboot and reinvigorate it by hiring new writers. Recently, “The Walking Dead” hired a new show-runner, Angela Kang. Hiring a new show-runner is a positive step forward, since “The Walking Dead’s” decline came under Scott Gimple’s run. The season 8 finale opened the door to some potential interesting story-lines. In the hands of the right writers, the show may find its footing again.